Yellowknife city councillor says ‘we’re all in this together’ when it comes to street people

Yk City Councillor Stacie Stacie Smith (Photo courtesy of City of Yellowknife)

Yellowknife’s only Indigenous member of city council says if residents really want to try to help the city’s street people then the “us versus them” mentality has to stop.

Stacie Smith says we are all human beings, we all live in Yellowknife and we should all be in this together.

She made the comments recently after videos of violence taking place downtown outside the city’s sobering centre and day shelter on 50 St. were posted to social media.

“It’s not shocking. As a ‘lifer-knifer’ I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. Not alcoholism myself, but with family members. There are other things behind the alcoholism that causes it. The reasons there are outbursts like this is because these folks don’t know what to do with themselves and this is how it comes out,” Smith said in an interview with CKLB.

Smith says her mother is a retired drug and alcohol counsellor.

Smith says the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) must do more to provide programming and self-help services for people struggling with mental health issues, addiction and homelessness.

She adds that there is only so much the city can do.

“We recognize that (council) represents this community and (we) are all community members. We need to remember that we have to take care of all community members. We need to remember that we have to take care of our – these folks are our own, they reside here. They are part of our community,” Smith said. “It’s very easy to get stuck in that mindset of them versus us but it’s not. We’re all one and the same.”

Smith, who owns and operates a downtown flower shop, says that simply ignoring the less fortunate leads to a domino effect.

“It expands outward. There’s alcoholsim and it affects groups of people and then it affects neighbourhoods which then in turn affects larger areas of the community which is happening downtown,” Smith said. “It’s been doing this for a good 20 years but it’s only increasing because we see a lot more people coming from the small communities to Yellowknife.”

Smith says the latest official count had the city’s homeless population at about 340 people but add that the real number is closer to twice that figure.

She thinks the problem is larger than the territorial government cares to admit.

“The GNWT gave us the sobering centre but now their hands are washed and there is no proper programming, no accountability put in place and that is what’s needed.”

Smith adds that the centre’s close proximity to the downtown liquor store is not the problem that some have made it out to be.

She points out that all three locations the day shelter has occupied downtown were within walking distance of the liquor store. She says moving either facility isn’t going to solve anything.

“Alcohol is what keeps them sturdy. It helps them deal with whatever issues they are dealing with so they are going to find alcohol or a substitute and it doesn’t matter where,” Smith said. It doesn’t matter what time of day. There are always going to be bootleggers and it’s our job to help them get treatment. It’s also their job to want it.”

She compares it to the days where Indigenous people in the south were forced onto reserves. She says that didn’t solve any problems it just moved the problems from one place to another.

Smith adds that a managed alcohol program, whereby street alcoholics are given a measured amount of alcohol each day, under supervision, could work here.

She says she knows of people who function better with a small amount of alcohol in their system.

Managed alcohol programs have had some degree of success in major Canadian cities with large Indigenous populations such as Edmonton and Winnipeg.

In the shorter term, Smith suggests that treating street people with compassion and dignity would go along way towards improving their self-image and self-respect and in turn, their public demeanour.

About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.